You Should Tolerate Bad Writing

I’m not a perfectionist. As a writer, this can be a disadvantage. I’m confident there have been times when I could have improved a piece with one more revision or one more re-write. But I must admit, I become bored and just want it to be over so I can get on to my next creative idea.

On the other hand, not being a perfectionist as a writer has its distinct advantages. One of those has to do with the writing process and that enigmatic term we like to call writer’s block. I’m not completely convinced that writer’s block actually exists. Sure, there may be times of uncertainty where one needs to put in the requisite amount of thinking before it becomes clear where a plot should go or how a character should act. However, I do think that, perhaps, sometimes writer’s block is just not be willing to tolerate bad writing.

We have good days. We have bad days. Sometimes the words are clicking with clarity and ease, the phrasings are coherent and the descriptions vivid. Other times every single sentence is a chore and when you look back over your last paragraph, you realize that a second grader could have sounded so clever. When that happens, it’s precisely the moment that you need to be tolerant of bad writing.

In 2002, I started my first novel. The writing was so bad that I stopped on the second page. It took me 10 more years until I finally finished my first novel.

I couldn’t tolerate bad writing. Therefore, I paid for it, languishing away in non-writing pursuits.

Recently, I was working on a section of my new novel and that self-criticism reared its ugly head: this isn’t particularly good. But I made a decision to move on. I didn’t care if it wasn’t good, I told myself, it will eventually BE good.

That’s the key. Bad writing doesn’t necessarily need to remain bad writing. I’ve come across parts of my manuscripts in the past which are terrific and then I’ll reach a section which is quite less than great. I’ve learned to appreciate these sections. For one, I’m happy I can recognize bad writing when I see it. Two, I appreciate the fact that I motored through a bad writing session because it does help further the story. It’s much easier to rewrite and improve a poorly worded section than it is to come up with a completely new section.

Bad writing should be embraced. It’s one of the backbones for good writing. Don’t get discouraged when the words aren’t flowing. Keep moving forward, even if you have to use your 2nd grade vocabulary. On revision day, I’m sure you’ll be glad you have something to work with.

Writing a Trilogy, or is it a Three Part Story

I’ve mentioned before how I am working on my first trilogy. My first five novels were standalones and I’ve always felt that standalones are more interesting reads because, well, they have a tight arc and a thrilling finish. I’ve never been one for built-in cliffhangers (let alone the ridiculous extra scenes that Marvel Studios has become famous for. Please, no!). I’ve never wanted to tease the reader or string a reader along. I just wanted to write quality stories, encompassing one person’s whole worldview in one story. Sequels, series, trilogies were just not for me.

Well, hey. What do they say? People change? So do writers, and that has led me to some unfamiliar territory. When I wrote my latest novel – still unreleased – the story, though quite tidy, didn’t feel over. There were unanswered questions and many new avenues to explore. I decided to thing about a sequel. It let me to a cool idea and then the story took off.

Well, no those two stories are becoming three. My first trilogy.

As I continue to punch away at the keys and discover all the crazy ways this story is taking on new life, I’ve realized that there is a difference between a sequel and a just a longer story. My goal now isn’t to write three related novels. My goal is to write one story, broken into manageable and gripping parts. A large arc over all three with individual arcs built into each section. It’s a challenging yet fascinating process, and it’s forcing me to approach writing in different ways from the past. This can only be good in a writer’s development. I’m excited about that aspect.

To make this work, I’ve dramatically slowed down the release of book 1 so I can finish book 2 and be well on my way in book 3 before the opening chapter ever sees the light of day. As my English colleague says, trilogies planned at one time are better than those with an added sequel. I agree. It’s all about coherence and allowing new ideas be applied to previous ideas. Lots of back editing is needed. Retroactive writing is tough to do once the first story is in print.

The plot of this novel is a challenge. It’s complex, with many characters. It has two main overarching stories which are connected. These stories have spawned subplots and minor characters and it’s a lot to keep straight. It’s a puzzle really. A puzzle I’m driving myself. A puzzle I get to create. I love that aspect of it.

So writers, push yourself. Try something new. Let your trilogies be standalones and your standalones be trilogies. It will be worth it in the long run.

Justify the … Idea. It’s How I Write

In my theatre arts class, we play a game called Justify the Pose. I say ‘go,’ and everyone tears off around the room doing whatever they like. When I call ‘stop,’ they  must freeze in whatever awkward position they find themselves in, whether they are mid-step or standing on a desk. Then I call out a couple people’s names and they have to justify the pose, on the spot they have to think up a situation in which they might find themselves in this position and then act it out. It’s a great game to get the actors thinking creatively about how to understand certain situations.

Recently, I began to realize that this is exactly how I write. I try to justify the idea.

This is a great way to generate ideas and force a writer to think creatively about a certain idea. Here’s how it works. A random image pops in my head and I immediately think what could justify this situation. What would be the back story? Why would this person be in this situation at this time?

My entire second novel was started on a premise like this. One day I had a random thought of a woman from a second story window seeing a man below wearing a red hat. That’s all I needed to write an entire novel. I began thinking why this woman would be interested in a man wearing a red hat. What was his relationship to her?  Was he a bad man? Was he trying to hide something?

I’m currently working on a trilogy which is based on the same time of premise: a strange image which makes no sense, but I forced myself to give it meaning and make it make sense. In doing so, it forced me to think creatively and I ended up with a novel (and soon to be novels) which are beyond what I thought I could ever think of. But I now know that’s not the case. I can make anything work if I give it enough time and brain power.

So give it a try. Take an idea, a random idea, a bizarre idea and try to justify it. It’s fun and you never know what you’ll end up with.

 

Going for a Trilogy

My, the consummate stand-alone novel guy, is going for a trilogy.  I mentioned a while back that I was wading into virgin territory by starting a sequel to my finished yet unpublished novel “A  Man too Old for a Place too Far.” As I’ve been working on the sequel, the stories line just keep ballooning and advancing in unexpected ways. Finally, today, I realized that there is no way I’m going to wrap up this story by the end of the second novel, but a third, yes, can be done. Probably should be done. I don’t want to drag it out indefinitely. I do like closure. That’s why I write standalones.

But in this one, I fleshed out 6 weaving story lines. Does that sound like a lot? Perhaps. But they are all interconnected in unique and fun ways. It will be a pleasure to see how they overlap and tie up in a beautifully satisfying bow at the end of book three. That’s the goal, at least.

And that brings me to outlining. I’ve never outlined before, but with overlapping story lines and three novels, it is starting to feel more nature. I have, at least at this point, figured out the very ending of the trilogy. That’s where I want to go. It could change, of course, but it gives me a clear goal to get to. Now it is just one big puzzle with many moving parts and I have to put the Rubik’s cube back together again. At least this is the cube that I created. I have the playbook. So there!

It’s also a reason why I slowed down the release of Book 1. I want to make sure I have all three books well thought-out before I release the first and regret it later because of a great new idea.

So the first Sasse trilogy is in the mix. It’s a tough genre to describe. Historical fiction, contemporary adventure, time travel, magical realism. And go ahead, throw in a few more.

I asked one of my beta readers of book 1 how he would categorize it. He said that that is a good question, and unfortunately, there were no good answers.

My goal would be to have the trilogy completely written by the end of 2017. First book published by summer’s end with books 2 & 3 coming along in 2018.

Now let’s see what really happens.

Are you satisfied? I never am.

Writing becomes addictive. Almost compulsive. The worst kind of compulsive behavior. It stalks you in the middle of the night, when out driving your car, when embroiled in the minutia of your work. Writing doesn’t stop. It possesses your mind and forces you to make decisions that you never wanted to make. Such as, do I do my job or do I follow the rabbit down the hole?

Writing is a 24-hour cable news network. It shouts and screams its biases and its commands that you pay attention to it. If you don’t, it sneaks into your psyche in other ways, often unnoticed as a slight and sly trick of the mind.

Writing demands its authority to be recognized. I’m not talking about the whims of a person who one day wakes up and wants to write her memoirs. Or I’m not talking about the person who has a great idea for a story and struggles to see if he can fulfill its promise. Each of those people should attempt it. Why not? Creativity should be embraced and encouraged. Go for it. Strive to write that book.

But no. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m well beyond that. I’m well past the time that I want to see if I can do it. I want to see if I can improve. Build. Create. Attempt something that hasn’t been done. Use language in ways that give the reader pause, enjoyment for sure, but pause also. To think, to feel, to experience, to live. Life abundant. Ideas free. Flowing. Beyond what I could imagine. I want to reach and grasp far above what I commanded a few years ago. This is not about the story. This is about the story commanding its attention, taking over my life, pushing me in directions I never thought I’d go. This is about being immersed in its flow, its pageantry, its tradition, its all encompassing … what is the word? That is what I want to know. All encompassing …

It’s discovery.

It’s progress.

It’s life.

It’s writing.

That’s where I am. Life and writing. One and the same.

A Meeting with a Beta Reader and More Genre Issues

I had a wonderful opportunity yesterday to sit down and discuss my new, unreleased novel with one of my beta readers yesterday. He provided some terrific insight in regards to characterization and novel pacing. He even shared with me that he felt that the novel didn’t feel like a novel in some regards. He kept using describing it as a TV show, something fast-paced and visual. It was an interesting description at the very least.

Beta readers provide terrific feedback into how a novel plays out in the realm of the reader. By the time I have polished a novel enough to want to send it to a beta reader, I’ve gone over the text so many times that I begin to be numb to it and what it is actually saying. The meanings of the novel become obscured to me by the minutia of the details I pay attention to when I’m revising. So this has become an invaluable step to see what others think.

As we concluded this fruitful back and forth about the novel, I informed him that I had one more question: how would he categorize it in regards to genre.

Honestly, this was a sneaky underhanded question because I needed his advice since I am clueless how to categorize this story. So he hesitated and said that that was a difficult question. I know. Then he said:

It’s not a fantasy. Though it has two fantastical characters.

It’s partially historical fiction, though the time periods are contemporary and 1977 and 1989, so not really historical fiction.

It’s a time travel story, but it’s not science fiction.

So what it is?

I HAVE NO IDEA!

Boy, do I hate categorizing my writing. The beta reader complimented me for creating something that was unique, which doesn’t easily categorize itself. He also mentioned that he’d never really seen anything quite like it before, which is difficult to do in this day and age.

So, all that is great, but how do I market it to readers. Let me use a phrase I’ve used before.

I HAVE NO IDEA!

“A Man too Old for a Place too Far.”  Coming in 2017. I’m just not sure where it will be listed yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Was I Sleeping 4 Times Through This Chapter?

Revision work never seems to surprise and frustrate me. I have been doing some fairly significant re-writes on my next novel up, and each revised chapter had its moments in the grinding machine of my mind, polishing and burnishing each one a little closer to the end result. And then yesterday, I came across a certain chapter that was so poorly written that I had to ask  myself a question: Was I sleeping when I wrote this chapter? And when I revised it three previous times?

It’s bizarre, actually. Were the writing Gremlins having their best inside my Scrivener, choosing just to sabotage one chapter so as to not make it so obvious?

I really don’t have an explanation of such inconsistent writing, especially after this is the fourth revision of this chapter.

It only reinforces what I’ve been doubling down on lately: take your time. That’s the beauty of being an independent author. I don’t have deadlines to meet. Sure, I want to consistently put out work, at least once a year. But don’t stress over fake deadlines and fake writing goals.

There is only one writing goal: write the very best story possible. Period.

To do this, it needs time. A manuscript needs time to simmer, time to aerate, time to reveal its cracks. Obviously, certain cracks can be hidden in plain sight, but they are there, plain as day, they only need to be looked at once more and they will reveal their fatal flaws.

Which is good, because then you can correct them.

So once again I say slow down, Mr. Revisionist. Slow down, Mr. You Are Typing Too Quickly. Slow down and read those words out loud. Here the flaws, listen to the cracks, and boldly insert the solution.

This is going to be a great novel. How do I know? Because I see its flaws and I haven’t turned away yet.